SPEECH: Voting Rights and the Senate Filibuster

Mr. President, I wanted to come down here, like many of my colleagues today, and talk about a really important topic, and that is the future of the filibuster and the issue of voting rights, both of which are very important to this country. We are going to be focused a lot--perhaps with some major votes, historic votes, in the U.S. Senate this week--on these topics.

There has been a lot of talk recently from my Democratic colleagues about actually getting rid of the filibuster. This, as many of my colleagues have mentioned, would be an action that would fundamentally transform this institution and this country.

The irony is that, until very recently, the vast majority of our colleagues here--Republicans and Democrats--were in agreement on this topic, in essence, of getting rid of the filibuster, which has been part of the U.S. Senate for decades--for centuries, in many aspects, if you look at our history. It would not be a wise move for the Senate. It would not be a wise move for America. This has been a longstanding bipartisan view.

Let me just give you a couple of quotes from some of my colleagues. 

My colleague from Montana, Senator Tester, just said last year: 

I am a “no” on changing the filibuster. I am a “no.” The move to make the Senate like the House, I think, is a mistake. 

My colleague from Delaware, Senator Coons, said in 2018: 

I am committed to never voting to change the legislative filibuster. 

That is what Senator Coons said.

My colleague from Illinois, Senator Durbin, in 2018, also said:

I can tell you getting rid of the filibuster would be the end of the Senate as it was originally devised and created going back to our Founding Fathers. We have to acknowledge respect for the minority, and that is what the Senate tries to do in its composition and its procedure.

Wise words from Senator Durbin.

Of course, there is a trove of quotes from the majority leader, Senator Schumer, who vehemently opposed getting rid of the filibuster in the past when he was in the minority. Let me highlight just a few of them.

Here is one he said in 2005: 

Bottom line is very simple. The ideologues in the Senate want to turn what the Founding Fathers called the “cooling saucer of democracy” into the rubberstamp of dictatorship. We will not let them. They want to make this country into a banana republic.

Never one for subtlety, that is our majority leader right now. Then he went on to say:

It would be doomsday for democracy.

Again, not too subtle there, the majority leader. 

It would be doomsday for democracy if we get rid of the filibuster. 

Here is another Senator who is very famous around the world and who became President, Barack Obama.

He said with regard to getting rid of the filibuster in 2005:

What they do not expect is for one party, be it Republican or Democrat, to change the rules in the middle of the game so that they can make all the decisions while the other party is told to sit down and keep quiet. 

Since we are reaching back, let me quote the late Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia on this issue. 

Here he is in 2005: 

The filibuster must go, they say. In my 53 years in Congress, I have never seen a matter that came before the Congress, before the Senate, or the House, as a matter of fact, that is so dangerous, so out of the mainstream, and so radical as this one. I pray that Senators will pause and reflect before ignoring that history and tradition in favor of the political priority of the moment.

That was Senator Byrd.

Of course, it is not just Senators. Here is what the organ of the Democratic Party, also known as the New York Times editorial board, said in 2004 about the filibuster:

Republicans see the filibuster as an annoying obstacle, but it is actually one of the checks and balances that the Founders, who worried greatly about the concentration of power, built into our system.

So this has been a view that has been widely held: Don't get rid of the filibuster.

Senator Manchin, in an op-ed recently, talking about how he would not, under no circumstances, vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster, gave a really important reason why, which, as Alaska's Senator, I feel very strongly about. He noted in that piece that the current rules with regard to the filibuster and the 60-vote threshold guarantee that “rural and small States and the Americans who live in them always have a seat at the table in the U.S. Senate.” 

Well, I think that that is enormously important. It is enormously important for Alaska, but it is enormously important for the Senate as a body, which was how we were designed by the Founding Fathers. 

Now, you know, there are charges of hypocrisy that can be leveled at this institution and at the Members in it. Many times, there are examples of when Members of Congress say one thing when they are in power and have authority and they say another thing when they are out of power. But I will tell you, on this issue, that has not been the case for the Republican Senators here.

What do I mean?

In 2017, 61 U.S. Senators, in this letter, wrote the majority leader, then Senator McConnell, and the minority leader, Senator Schumer--33 Republicans and 30 Democrats--saying, in essence, don't get rid of the filibuster. These were 30 Democrats, 4 years ago, who wrote this letter, saying don't get rid of the filibuster.

Now, that is when the Republicans were in the majority, and there was a Republican in the White House. There was pressure, I will tell you, on Republicans like there is now on Democrats, from certain elements in the White House and other places, to get rid of the filibuster, and we didn't do it. We did not do it for all of the reasons that we have been discussing.

Yet I guess we are going to see a vote in the first time in history, I believe, in the U.S. Senate where the majority leader of the U.S. Senate is going to actually move forward to start getting rid of the filibuster. I am pretty sure that has never happened--the legislative filibuster--in the history of the United States of America. It is a big deal. 

So, look, my Democratic colleagues are clearly cognizant of how vulnerable they look with regard to being hypocritical on the issue. As I mentioned, 31 of them, just 4 years ago, signed a letter, saying don't get rid of it when Republicans had power in the Senate and in the White House, and we didn't. But now, they are like, Hmm, we are going to flip-flop and say we should get rid of it.

The Presiding Officer may have seen that there are already these filibuster flip-flop cards. I won't name the Senators, but it shows them wearing flip-flops. The President is there, but it is already out there, right? This is a big, big flip-flop, not on some small issue but on one of the most fundamental issues in the U.S. Senate, and my colleagues know this. 

So what is their response? What is their response?

In looking at their previous statements, like the Senate majority leader's, who has made a lot of statements--I have just read a few--in saying, you know, that it doesn't really matter, and I didn't really mean it, what is the argument? Well, here is the argument. Here is their argument. The Senate filibuster must be nuked because American democracy must be saved from Republican State legislators and Republican Members of Congress and their so-called Jim Crow 2.0 schemes. This is their new language. Everybody from the President to Majority Leader Schumer is using this talking point.

Just yesterday and today, the majority leader was going on about Republican Jim Crow 2.0 schemes and the need for Democrats to protect and defend American democracy, and Joe Biden--that unifier, that great unifier--uses the Jim Crow 2.0 charge against Republicans on a very regular basis. As a matter of fact, he just did it a few hours ago, again, down in Georgia today. 

It is all historically inaccurate, and it is insulting to millions of Americans. Of course, they are stated with a smug, moral superiority, their arguments that voting rights laws--just listen to them, listen to them--in Democrat States are good and noble and are protecting American democracy while voting rights laws in Republican States are bad and even racist. Jim Crow 2.0 is their argument. Listen to the President. Listen to the majority leader.

They were making those arguments as recently as today. That is their argument as to why, after all of these years of saying don't get rid of the filibuster, they are saying now we have to get rid of the filibuster.

So here is the key question: Are these arguments accurate? Are their claims actually true?

Now, I do not assume to know the details of other States' voting laws, and here is the truth. You have had a lot of U.S. Senators in the last couple of weeks and couple of months--heck, even today--coming down to the Senate floor, claiming they know all about these other laws in other States on voting rights. They don't. Trust me. For those watching, they don't. 

I don't claim to know the details of voting rights laws in other States. But here is what I do know. I know a lot about Alaska's laws, a lot about Alaska's voting laws. In fact, when I was attorney general, I was in the trenches, defending the right to vote for all Alaskans. I am proud to have that as part of my record.

I know a lot about Alaska's voting rights laws--a Republican State--and here are some very important and rather inconvenient truths and facts about my State's laws in three critical areas of voting rights: early in-person voting, automatic voter registration, and no-excuse absentee voting. 

My Republican State, the great State of Alaska, has voting laws that are significantly more expansive than the laws of New York, than the laws of Delaware, than the laws of Connecticut, than the laws of Massachusetts and the laws of New Hampshire, just to name a few. That is a fact.

President Biden's speech today talked about facts. Well, these are facts. And I am going to talk a little bit more about these facts, but here is my point: Those States I just named--New York, Delaware, Connecticut, and Massachusetts--are those States Jim Crow 2.0 relative to Alaska? Well, by Joe Biden's reasoning, they are.

So I want to go a little bit more in detail on some of these issues I am talking about. These are important areas with regard to voting rights.

Let's start with early in-person voting: Alaska, 15 days; other States, less so; New Jersey, DC, 10 days, 7 days; New York, 10 days; Massachusetts, 11 days. They haven't met my State yet. That is OK.

Now look at Connecticut--no days. There is no early in-person voting at all. In New Hampshire, there is no early in-person voting at all. Why don't these States want people to vote early? Is it Jim Crow 2.0? Look, I wouldn't make that claim against those States, maligning their elected officials. I am sure they have their reasons. But, again, by President Biden's logic, they are.

Let me do another area of important voting rights laws: voter registration.

My State in essence has automatic voter registration--probably one of the most forward-leaning of any State in the country. As I speak right here on the Senate floor, there is no automatic voter registration in Pennsylvania, in Minnesota, in Arizona, in New Hampshire, in Delaware--President Biden's State--or in Wisconsin. None. None. None of these States have automatic voter registration. Are these States Jim Crow 2.0 relative to Alaska, my Republican State? I wouldn't say that, but, again, by President Biden's logic, they are.

Let me give you one more, a pretty important one as well. This is the issue of no-excuse absentee voting. There are many other expansive provisions in Alaska's laws as it pertains to voting, but here is one that we think is important. If for some reason you can't make it down to the polling location and you want to vote absentee, you can. You don't need an excuse to vote absentee. We have been doing that for years and years and years.

Let's look at other States. In Delaware, you have to have an excuse. In New Hampshire, you have to have an excuse. Connecticut. Massachusetts. New York. By the way, all of the Senators from these States are down here. Jim Crow 2.0. Republican States. What about this issue? This is a really important issue. Are these States Jim Crow 2.0 relative to my State? Well, according to Joe Biden's logic, they are. I wouldn't make that claim. 

Let me focus on New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts for a little bit longer, on their laws--because I did look into this--and actually what does not constitute an excuse. 

Again, in my State, there is no excuse. If you want to vote absentee, you can. In these States, you have to have an excuse. But here is the deal. In New York or Connecticut or Massachusetts, age is not an excuse. It is not an excuse. You can be 90 years old, 95 years old; fought in World War II; maybe it is hard for you to get to the polling place--nope, not in New York, not in Connecticut, not in Massachusetts. That is no excuse. Sorry, World War II veteran who can barely walk. 

Let me give you another example of those States--actually, the States of New York, Delaware, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. If you are a victim of stalking or domestic violence--you don't want to leave your home and go to a public polling place; you don't want your address on a public document--is that an excuse so you can get an absentee ballot? Nope. Nope. You must leave your home and go down to the polling place. That is not an excuse, domestic violence victim. 

Let me remind the listeners. New York doesn't allow that as an excuse. The majority leader is from New York. Delaware doesn't allow that as an excuse. The President of the United States is from Delaware.

To me, these election laws seem particularly egregious, as egregious as any of the examples offered by the other side about voting restrictions in other States that we have been hearing about, ones that are now shamelessly and ridiculously compared to Jim Crow 2.0 by our own President, the unifier. But here is the thing: I wouldn't tell New York that it must change its voting laws. I don't understand the people who live in New York who don't want to give a World War II veteran an excuse to vote absentee. 

For that matter, New York actually doesn't want to change their own voting laws to be more expansive of voting rights like we are in Alaska. How do I know this? New York just had a statewide referendum to have same-day voter registration and no-excuse absentee voting like my State. Guess what. The people of New York voted against that. The people of New York had an opportunity to meet the level where we are in Alaska, a Republican State, and the people of New York rejected it. 

I don't know what is going on in New York, why the good people there rejected these provisions, but it is going to be interesting. We will see if Leader Schumer is consistent and accuses his own constituents of supporting Jim Crow 2.0 as he has millions of his fellow Americans. Is he going to do that?

They just rejected what my State already has: no-excuse absentee voting. New York rejected it. Are the New Yorkers Jim Crow 2.0 relative to Alaska? I don't think so. There are reasons in their State, I am sure, that they would make for not doing what we do in Alaska. But, again, by President Biden's own logic, they are. I am confident the good people of New York have a reason. 

But here is the thing, and it is a serious issue: The Jim Crow era, we know, was a horrible blight and stain on our country. Some of the most heinous laws were passed to prevent African Americans from voting. It was a horrible era. But it is remarkable how casually the President of the United States and the majority leader now throw out their Jim Crow 2.0 insult at Republicans, at Republican States. The President and the majority leader do this when their States don't even closely measure up to mine on critical voting rights issues and laws. It is pretty remarkable, pretty hypocritical.

But it is not just me making this argument. Here is an article from The Atlantic that came out recently entitled “The Blue States That Make It Hardest To Vote.” Here is the subtitle: “Democrats are criticizing Republicans for pushing restrictive voting laws. But states such as Joe Biden's Delaware can make casting a ballot difficult.”

I would I ask unanimous consent to have this printed in the Record.

Here is a little bit of what this article says:

[President Biden] has assailed Georgia's new voting laws as an atrocity akin to “Jim Crow in the 21st century. . . . But even once the GOP-passed measure [in Georgia] takes effect, Georgia citizens will still have far more opportunities to vote before Election Day than their counterparts in the president's home state. 

That is The Atlantic--not known as a Republican magazine or anything. The Atlantic article goes on to say:

Delaware isn't an anomaly among Democratic strongholds, and its example presents the president's party with an uncomfortable reminder: Although Democrats like to call out Republicans for trying to suppress voting, the states [the Democrats] control in the Northeast makes casting a ballot more difficult than anywhere else. 

Than anywhere else.

Here is the point I am making. I am not trying to say that every other State should be like Alaska, that we need to federalize elections so every State has the same voting rights issues. I am proud of where my State is, and I am certainly not going to let any smug argument on the other side somehow accuse my Republican State of Jim Crow 2.0. Meet the standards in my State before you make those arguments. 

But the point is, we are not all going to be the same. I have a State that is one-fifth the size of the lower 48. We have very unique voting issues. And the Founding Fathers strongly believed that election laws, for that reason, should be crafted State by State. 

This is in the Constitution: 

The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations.

Yes, this Congress may make laws and regulations, but a wholesale Federal takeover of every State's elections law is not what the Constitution contemplated, and it is not what would be good for each citizen of each State in our country. 

My invitation to the President and other Members who are fundamentally demanding that we fundamentally alter this body by getting rid of the filibuster: Save your smug “Jim Crow 2.0” insults. Go back to your own States. Undertake voter rights legislation is as expansive as my State. Take care of your own States first before you come here and tell us that you need to fundamentally reorder this body and this country by getting rid of the filibuster--an issue that almost everybody agreed on just a few years ago was not a good idea for the Senate or for America.

I yield the floor.